Vision Statement for Graduate Program in the Coming Decade

At Lamar in the 21st century it must be possible for any student to bring to bear on any subject the ideas and technology of computer science.

Lamar University in the Information Age

The information revolution is transforming universities, for it goes to the heart of what universities are about: the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Wise investment by academic administrators will enable Lamar University to lead this region and the State of Texas into this information-based future. Thus, the information revolution will not only fundamentally transform this university, and, indeed, all universities, but it will reorder all institutions of higher learning in the minds of the nation's leaders. The premier universities will be energized and will prosper by their influence and impact. 

Rapid intellectual advances over the past fifty years have created a new field of intellectual endeavor, called computer science in North America and informatics in Europe. The field not only encompasses a large body of knowledge about algorithms, processes, information, communication, languages, and systems but also concerns a new paradigm for representing and acquiring knowledge. In this paradigm, computer programs embody theories. For example, a program might embody a theory of speech recognition, visual processing, or economic behavior - theories that are important in psychology and economics. And, computer programs can embody dynamic models of physical phenomena, thereby serving as a basis for a computational science that augments experimentation with a new means of learning about physical reality. These computational simulations have already led to remarkable results, such as the discovery of the exact difference in the speed of rotation between the molten core and the earth's mantle. 

Unlike other academic disciplines, progress in computing seems to be driven by industry. From small start-up companies to enormous corporations, engineering developments in hardware processors, memory chips, and disk drives - and software technology appear so rapidly that it might seem as though universities can not contribute to the field and should not even be trying. Small universities like Lamar may, in particular, feel that they can only observe these rapid changes from a distance. 

But the role of universities has been transformed - not diminished - by industrial interest in computing. Look carefully and one finds that the technical insights and innovations frequently originate in universities of all sizes; it is only their development and commercialization that requires the scale of resources that corporations can provide. Universities may be less involved in the final steps of a commercialization than before, but they remain critically involved in innovation. Moreover, ideas that do originate in corporations are increasingly developed by new researchers who are younger and closer to their university experiences than the technological leaders of the past. One need only read recent issues of Business Week, Fortune , or Forbes to find the names of these new innovators. 
The young are playing a driving role in the information revolution: they sense the intellectual foundation moving, they want to understand the changes, and they want to take part in the changes. For Lamar to continue to attract and excite the best of these curious young minds, Lamar must be seen as a center for the preparation of highly trained graduates, not only in this area, but in the State of Texas. 

Periods of rapid change are opportunities in which decisive action can have lasting effects-and inaction can cause irreversible losses. 

The CS department has given this Lamar administration the means to create a model information age university.

Lamar's Computer Science Department Today

Since its founding in 1984, Lamar's Computer Science M.S. program has attracted more international students than any other department in the University, and it has far exceeded all other departments on campus in the number of students who have graduated with M.S. degrees. This department is also one of the most efficient, with seven faculty members on the graduate faculty who have been supervising more than 100 full-time Master's level students. We are currently in the process of hiring another graduate faculty member for the fall of 2008. The departmental labs are maintained by one full-time, permanent System Administrator and three graduate students. Without these highly skilled students, we would be unable to ensure that our computer networks and other equipment were fully operational.

Among students our graduate program is considered one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, on campus, but, as our student evaluations show, our faculty is regarded as dedicated, helpful, and inspiring. Our graduates have had little difficulty in finding employment upon graduation. 
Our six instructional labs are open to all students in the University, and they offer a variety of equipment and platforms including Macintosh, Windows, Linux Red Hat, Sun Solaris 10, robots, multimedia equipment and software, and PC clusters. All of our labs are connected to the University gigabit backbone, and the Maes Building has wireless access. We also have six research laboratories with a wide variety of specialized equipment including wireless sensor networks, real-time system software and hardware, clusters, robots, and systems with recent innovations in architecture. 

Regarding support staff, we have one department secretary, two student office assistants, and, beginning March 1, 2002, a full-time, permanent system administrator. The support staff is adequate at this time to deliver our programs, but that may change in the next few years as the amount of office work continues to grow. The requirements of accreditation and assessment are one of the biggest factors in determining how long we can function without more office staff. 

2.1 Strengths:

The greatest strength of the Computer Science graduate programs are our dedicated and competent faculty. All have Ph.Ds in Computer Science and at least four years of teaching experience. Three have more than twenty years of experience. 

The CS faculty is highly collegial and cohesive. Though diverse, we have trust and a common vision. The Computer Science Department believes that the science behind computing has become so deep and information technology so pervasive that they are relevant to every subject in the university. This discipline epitomizes the notion of an enabling science. The traffic of students and researchers carrying ideas and techniques from our courses into every discipline, department, and institute is evidence of an academic infrastructure for the broad computer science community that, given an opportunity, this department can create for the whole campus. The faculty, without exception, is active in scholarly activities and takes advantage of opportunities for faculty development. 

Computer Science faculty members have always been active and innovative in scholarly work. They have received Texas Coordinating Board Grants, ARP grants, NSF grants, and other external funding for many years. They have always kept current in their work through attendance at professional conferences and workshops. Although Computer Science has always operated with less than adequate funding, our faculty has been proud of its teaching accomplishments and the quality of its graduates. Since 2006, we have added six research labs in the Maes Building , and, as Table 1 below shows, we have substantially increased our external funding. Table 2 shows the situation with respect to peer-reviewed publications in the department. Table 2 does not count other scholarly work such as presentations at conferences, course development, or assessment activities.
Total Funding Proposals Number Grant Funds Awarded
2002-2005 16 $214,670
2006 14 $570,694
2007 15 $89,324*
Table 1. *This does not include the $490,000 grant received in 2006 for three years.

Total Refereed Publications Number
2003-2004 4
2004-2005 19
2005 25
2006 23
2007 18
A second strong aspect of the program is that we have a sufficient budget to support graduate student workers, instruction, faculty travel, and a significant percentage of research needs. We have six instructional labs (Maes 211-216) and six research labs (Maes 208C, Maes 201, Maes 209, Maes 104-106, Maes 105-107, Maes 210). We also hire graduate students as graders, network technicians, webmasters, and office workers. In addition to money from external sources, the University provides additional HEAF funds for selected instructional and research infrastructure. For example, last year the University spent more than $60,000 to renovate Maes 201 for the INSPIRED program of Dr. Doerschuk, and this year approximately $50,000 was spent on renovation of space and equipment for the new labs for Drs. Andrei, Liu, Sun, and Tran. Most of the equipment for instruction and for our offices is paid for through a technology fee of $19 per credit hour that all Lamar students pay. Our Dean distributes the money based on our expenses from the previous year and augments that with new funds if we have additional needs. We have spent more than $115,000 this fiscal year so far on graduate student wages, equipment and software for offices and instructional labs through technology fee money. Technology fee money has also paid for $4,213 in faculty travel. We have at our disposal $57,928 in M & O from the State that is used for supplies and operations including costs for travel, for every computer drop (charged to the department by Finance and Operations), and teaching assistants. Every faculty member has been able to travel to any conference for which he/she was presenting a paper or workshop during the past five years. If the money for the trips was not available from grants, it came from a combination of funds from the department, the Dean of Arts & Sciences, and the Office of Sponsored Programs. In any case, no request for travel money has been denied. Our policies regarding academic integrity are a third point of pride in our department. We have adopted the departmental academic honesty policy that is distributed and discussed in every class each semester. Plagiarism and cheating are always problems in departments where there are programming assignments. Our faculty have adopted and enforced tough penalties for academic dishonesty. All of our graduates are required to take a take a one semester course called Graduate Seminar (COSC 5100) that includes modules on Ethics and the social impact of computing. Fourthly, we have a high-quality, graduate program that graduates approximately 20 students each year with an M.S. degree. All of them are required to do a two-semester thesis or a one semester project as well as an oral defense. The quality of our program can be measured by the quality of our theses and final projects. Lastly, a strength in the sense of recruitment and retention of graduate students is that the University gives an out-of-state tuition waiver and a $1000 scholarship to any graduate student who meets departmental requirements. In our case, the requirement at this time is a quantitative GRE score of 680. The University requires a Toefl score of at least 530.

2.2. Weaknesses: The following areas of our programs need improvement:

  • The department has no scholarship money for graduate students other than the out-of-state tuition waiver and the $1000 scholarship. While this attracts international students, it is obviously insufficient to attract American students.
  • We have only a few American M.S. students. The last one to graduate did so in May 2007. We have two American undergraduates currently in the department who have committed themselves to joining the graduate program in fall 2008. The biggest reason, in our opinion, is the lack of scholarship funds.
  • Our office space is not sufficient. We need more offices and more space in the offices we have now. Each of the faculty offices is only 110 square feet. These offices have no windows and only a small amount of space for student chairs.

3. Describe the adequacy of your department's facilities, support staff, and equipment.

The adequacy of the department's facilities and equipment are discussed in sections 1 and 2 above. Regarding support staff, we have one department secretary, a student office assistant, and, beginning March 1, 2002, a full-time, permanent system administrator. The support staff is adequate at this time to deliver our programs, but that may change in the next few years as the amount of office work continues to grow if our enrollment expands and the amount of paperwork required for handling administrative tasks continues to grow at the current pace. 

We also employ about 12 graders and 4 student technicians each semester. The technicians are graduate students who have had experience with system administration before they enrolled at Lamar. Without the student workers that we have, most of whom are international graduate students, we would not be able to keep our labs operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and our faculty simply could not manage the large class sizes. One of our concerns is that we have not had any increase in our budget for five years for student teaching assistants and student assistants even though the minimum wage and benefits required to compensate these workers has grown substantially. More money must be allocated for graduate student employees. These people do necessary jobs with dignity and enthusiasm, and they are grossly underpaid. Furthermore, if we do not increase their wages, these students will find better opportunities at other universities.

4.The Future

We believe that Lamar's stature during the next century will depend in part on how well Lamar as a whole embraces computing and information technology in research, education, and administration. In turn, this will depend on the strength and breadth of the Computer Science Department.

5. Scholarship Goals for the Next Decade

Goal A: Computer Science faculty will be involved in at least three interdisciplinary projects either with other departments on this campus or with departments other than computer science at other universities or corporations by 2011. 

As computing and information technology has penetrated deeper into all fields of human endeavor, the field has become broader. Thus, to increase our standing, or even to maintain it, the department must broaden as well. 

The synergistic effect of interdisciplinary work for the advancement of computer science cannot be overestimated. For example, the biological sciences, crucial in the future, have large computational problems and huge amounts of data. In Lamar's Business School, there is growing interest in computational finance; predictions based on economic theories now depend on sophisticated simulations. In physics, fluid mechanics, dynamical systems, and experiments with larger and larger amounts of data require more and more computer science expertise. We want to increase our expertise in data mining, bioinformatics, computational biology, modeling, visualization, and simulation. 

Goal B: Related to Goal A is our goal of working with mathematics, the sciences, engineering, and the humanities to develop a Ph.D program in computational science that will involve a curriculum of courses from several departments. The State has indicated that it will not permit Computer Science and Mathematics to have a Ph.D program at Lamar, but it has said that a unique program providing education in a discipline in demand by industry and the government that fits the mission and strategic goals of the university can be approved here. 

To accomplish this goal will require more graduate faculty in computer science. 

Goal C: Add at least 3 graduate faculty positions by 2011. 

Goal D: The department will produce at least thirty refereed publications and write at least twenty five proposals for University for external funding per year by 2011. The department must continue to improve opportunities for its faculty for research and publication in the application and theory of our discipline. It is important that computer science strengthen and increase its research efforts in order to bring new technology to its students and to the University community. Research will also make our programs and expertise deeper and broader. The vast change of scale predicted for every part of computing and communications from speed of processors to capacity of memories, from penetration of networks to size of software systems, from size of datasets to bandwidth of optical fibers-will lead to new developments in all fields. To take full advantage of these developments often requires computer science expertise; at the same time, the problems of these fields create new and interesting problems for computer scientists to explore. Our current level of research is less than what is necessary for attaining the level of achievement that we insist upon. We must recruit, mentor, retain, and develop an increased number of high quality faculty who enjoy creative scholarly work. Researchers must be given reasonable release time and attractive compensation packages to encourage their work. 

Goal E: In order to serve the community and the region, the department intends to offer its master's program online by 2011. Currently, our goal is to have the upper division undergraduate courses online by the end of 2009. We have a plan with the Distance Education department at Lamar to accomplish this objective. 

Goal F: Increase our impact across the university in education and research. 

The Computer Science department can assist the University by broadening its educational mission. Today, we do an outstanding job of offering rigorous technical courses that appeal to technically-minded students throughout Arts & Sciences and Engineering. But, increasingly, we are asked by other departments and units to bring the information era to non-technical students. These students seek courses in practical aspects of databases, in WEB programming, in tools for computational science, and in the societal impacts of computers, for example. We must make the subject of information and software one of the basic kinds of literacy achieved by every graduate. And this leads to a clear subgoal: 

Make Lamar conspicuous nationally for the innovative ways in which it extends fundamental computing ideas, not just computers, to all its students. 

We hope to introduce several new courses in an exploratory manner, based on ongoing discussions with faculty and students. Our record for outstanding teaching means that the courses could be exciting opportunities for hundreds of Lamar students, both undergraduate and graduate. For example, we could offer courses in collaboration with other departments in computer network security, modeling and simulation, high performance and parallel computing, design and programming of computer games, and robotics. These courses could be available during non-traditional class times for those in other Lamar departments as well as those working in industry.

5. Plan for Reaching the Goals

Meeting these goals of increasing our reputation within Texas and the region and increasing our impact at Lamar will require: 

Strengthening our presence in the core areas of computer science; Expanding into key applied and theoretical areas of computer science and broadening our interests in interdisciplinary areas.

Strengthening the Core Areas of Computer Science:

Lamar's greatest strength in computer science has always been the expertise of its faculty. Traditionally, the department has been especially strong in core areas such as networks, distributed systems, database management systems, programming languages, artificial intelligence, and operating systems. The most senior people in the department are in these areas. Although interdisciplinary research is becoming important, these core areas remain essential, and the department must move aggressively to maintain its leadership in them as gaps created by retirements occur.

Expanding in key applied/interdisciplinary areas

In information and multimedia technology, artificial intelligence, computational science, and networks we have great potential. The time is ripe to strengthen and broaden areas in which Lamar and the world need research in order to make the most effective use of computing. Below, we briefly outline four such areas.

1. INFORMATION AND MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY.
Information technology is the science of organizing, manipulating, and searching data on the huge scale now available to millions via the World Wide Web. In the past, computing technology emphasized textual data, and this will remain important in the future. More recently, the field has broadened to incorporate multimedia data, notably images, video, and sound. Related to this area are topics such as data mining, bioinformatics, computer-aided geometric design, model checking, and computer graphics.

2. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE.
Several computer science faculty members have teaching and research experience in numerical and symbolic artificial intelligence. Faculty members have research interests in distributed artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine intelligence.

3. COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE.
Computer Science has a number of faculty with advanced degrees in Mathematics as well as Computer Science. The department has always offered a course in scientific programming that for a decade included parallel programming algorithms and techniques. Building on our strength in computational science, we would like to move decisively into more interdisciplinary areas. For example, algorithmic methods will be necessary in biology, nanofabrication (which suggests collaboration with EE), and simulation (which will be important in materials science). The Mathematics department has expressed interest in collaborating with us on modeling and simulation. Some of the great discoveries that lie ahead in biology will be made possible by large-scale performing computations of both discrete (e.g., genome sequencing) and continuous (e.g., protein folding) nature. Besides computing and communications, biology is the other great scientific field in which revolutionary developments in the 21st century are predicted.

4. NETWORKS.
Computer-communications networks transport information representing everything from letters and photographs to bank transactions and educational lectures cheaply and nearly instantaneously. A ubiquitous computer-networking infrastructure has the potential to fundamentally transform society. For example, ready access to information over the Internet not only impacts the publishing, journalism, and broadcasting industries but also impacts the nuts and bolts of the democratic process. Similarly, electronic commerce over a ubiquitous infrastructure can touch the life of every citizen. The speed at which networking advances, as well as the direction it takes, will depend on the education that future leaders receive in this field. We are in a strong position here because Lamar has wired the campus. We intend to build aggressively on this base.

These four areas are interconnected, so progress in anyone can affect the others. Better computational techniques from artificial intelligence and data mining will enable us to deal with the mass of information available, better networks will allow us to move the information around more quickly and seamlessly. Better security will give us greater confidence in using the networks. In addition, progress in any of these areas has the potential for having an immediate impact on society. The phenomenal growth of the World Wide Web is perhaps the most obvious example of just how immediate that impact can be. To take an example from a different domain, computational biology techniques play a key role in mapping the human genome, which in turn is expected to lead to better understanding of human diseases.

5.ARCHITECTURE AND REAL-TIME SYSTEMS. 
Computer-communications networks transport information representing everything from letters and photographs to bank transactions and educational lectures cheaply and nearly instantaneously. A ubiquitous computer-networking infrastructure has the potential to fundamentally transform society. For example, ready access to information over the Internet not only impacts the publishing, journalism, and broadcasting industries but also impacts the nuts and bolts of the democratic process. Similarly, electronic commerce over a ubiquitous infrastructure can touch the life of every citizen. The speed at which networking advances, as well as the direction it takes, will depend on the education that future leaders receive in this field. We are in a strong position here because Lamar has wired the campus. We intend to build aggressively on this base.

Deep problems in scheduling, interactive computing, satisfiability, safety, and complexity are involved in many applications. The study of real-time systems and computer architecture has already led to major advances in a wide variety of embedded systems. At least two of our faculty members are actively exploring these systems now. These five areas are interconnected, so progress in any one can affect the others. Better computational techniques from artificial intelligence and data mining will enable us to deal with the mass of information available, better networks will allow us to move information around more quickly and seamlessly and to monitor our environment. Better security will give us greater confidence in using the networks. In addition, progress in any of these areas has the potential for having an immediate impact on society. Our ambition is not to create five new units within the department but to make the applied side of our department a cohesive and powerful group that is influential in bringing academic computer science to bear on problems faced by science and society. Our strength in these areas will help many researchers across the university and will keep Lamar current in the fast moving computing field.

Expanding into Key Theoretical Areas

Our department believes that we have the faculty with sufficiently strong credentials to explore three specific areas of theoretical computer science: Symbolic computation, Model Checking, Algorithms, and Computability.

SYMBOLIC COMPUTATION.
Symbolic computation is concerned with computing in algebraic structures such as polynomials, trigonometric functions and algebraic numbers. The results of symbolic computation algorithms are exact and not subject to approximation errors. Symbolic computation has tremendous potential impact on applied areas such as network security, geometric modeling, simulation and theoretical topics like Groebner bases, automatic theorem proving, algorithms and computability. The department believes that the study of the foundations of computer science is exciting to students because it gives them confidence that they are on firm intellectual ground and it enables them to have truly innovative insights.

5. Conclusions

Ten years from now, we intend to still be a growing, highly respected graduate program which maintains the closeness and spirit of cooperation that has made this a pleasant environment in which to work in spite of fierce competition from other institutions. We also intend to be a larger group with more ties to other disciplines. We want to continue to improve our scholarly work to the point where we can participate in an interdisciplinary PhD program that adequately supports its graduate students financially. Finally, we intend to be more influential and visible within Lamar and draw a larger number of students and researchers to Lamar than ever before.